Rot­ten prac­tice leads to rot­ten start, and Pa­tri­ots can’t make up deficit at home

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY STEVEN GOFF steven.goff@wash­

Dave Paulsen had two mes­sages for his Ge­orge Ma­son Pa­tri­ots af­ter a wild Satur­day af­ter­noon ride at Ea­gleBank Arena ended with a 77-74 de­feat to Rhode Is­land.

First, he com­pli­mented them for re­cov­er­ing from an 18-point deficit in the sec­ond half with 15 min­utes of ster­ling bas­ket­ball that pushed them to a one-point lead over the At­lantic 10 pre­sea­son fa­vorites with 62 sec­onds left.

He also shared his dis­ap­point­ment, not nec­es­sar­ily for the over­all dis­play or the de­ci­sive fi­nal minute, but for what oc­curred 24 hours ear­lier: a rot­ten prac­tice, which, in his mind, led to a rot­ten first half.

“A great trib­ute to our guys the way we fought back,” Paulsen said. “They’ve also got to know that if we want to be a championship team, we have to have a championship ap­proach to ev­ery sin­gle thing we do.”

Trail­ing for al­most the en­tire game, the Pa­tri­ots (18-9, 8-6) mounted an epic come­back be­fore run­ning out of answers, end­ing a four-game win­ning streak.

With a chance to claim third place be­hind co-lead­ers Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth and Day­ton, Ma­son set­tled for a fifth-place tie with St. Bon­aven­ture and La Salle head­ing into the last four games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Pa­tri­ots will visit Day­ton (21-5, 12-2) on Tues­day.

The Rams (17-9, 9-5) re­cov­ered from a grue­some home de­feat to Ford­ham and claimed third place. The top four teams will re­ceive dou­ble byes in the 14team con­fer­ence tour­na­ment March 8-12 in Pitts­burgh.

Paulsen’s only seniors in the ro­ta­tion led the way: For­ward Jalen Jenk­ins made 14 of 17 free throws and scored 22 points, while guard Mar­quise Moore con­trib­uted 19 points and 10 re­bounds for his 17th dou­ble-dou­ble.

Jenk­ins’s three-point play pro­vided a 72-71 lead, the Pa­tri­ots’ first since 2-0. But af­ter Stan­ford Robin­son’s free throws, Jenk­ins trav­eled with 31 sec­onds left. Robin­son, a Paul VI grad­u­ate who trans­ferred to Rhode Is­land from In­di­ana, added two more free throws for a ca­reer-high 21 points.

Otis Liv­ingston II’s three-point at­tempt car­omed off the side of the back­board with 16 sec­onds left. Later, the Pa­tri­ots had two ad­di­tional chances to tie, but Jaire Grayer’s in­bounds pass was in­ter­cepted with four sec­onds left, and af­ter Robin­son’s missed free throws, Jenk­ins’s 80-foot hurl smacked the back­board.

Aside from Robin­son, an­other lo­cal player hurt the Pa­tri­ots: fresh­man Jeff Dowtin (St. John’s), who had seven points, seven as­sists and five re­bounds be­fore a crowd of 6,145 in Fair­fax.

Paulsen tried to sign Dowtin two years ago, even call­ing the guard on the drive to his in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence. “I wish he were wear­ing green,” he said.

The Pa­tri­ots were in over their heads in the first half. While the Rams ran their of­fense, ev­ery­thing was a chore for Ma­son.

The Rams made six of their first eight three-pointers en route to a 16-point lead. They stretched a 39-26 half­time gap to 51-33 be­fore the Pa­tri­ots sprung to life.

“We just had to re­lax,” Jenk­ins said. “In the first half, we didn’t get our shots. I went one-and-one and tried to be the hero. Sec­ond half, we came out and moved the ball, Mar­quise [got go­ing], we found open shoot­ers, and af­ter that we were just rolling.”

Liv­ingston’s ac­ro­batic layup capped a 14-2 run, and af­ter a Rhode Is­land time­out and free throw, the Pa­tri­ots scored seven in a row to draw even at 54 with 91/2 min­utes left.

“We got out early and in pretty good con­trol of the game,” Rams Coach Dan Hur­ley said, “but then we had to deal with the qual­ity that Coach Paulsen has put to­gether here in a short amount of time . . . . They made us earn this one.”

The Rams re­stored a six-point lead. The Pa­tri­ots re­sponded. And in the end, the vis­i­tors were a bit bet­ter.

“With a bet­ter level of com­po­sure and fo­cus in the first half,” Paulsen said, harp­ing on the Fri­day prac­tice, “we might not be talk­ing about one pos­ses­sion here, one pos­ses­sion there.”

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